Resumes Decoded: A Workshop with Dr. Bernadette So

By Aditi Sahu

The second day of the WCUB career symposium witnessed a jam-packed (overflowing, to be exact!) resume workshop conducted by Dr. Bernadette So, Director of Graduate Student Career Development at the New York University (NYU) Wasserman Center for Career Development. Equipped with the right blend of degrees and certifications in diverse fields such as Biology, Molecular Biology, Academic Advising, College Student Affairs, and Psychology, and experience in many institutes, Dr. So joined the NYU as a career service professional in 2014. At NYU, she spearheads the development of services and resources for graduate students to optimize their career opportunities and professional growth.

Dr. Bernadette So

The unifying theme of the resume workshop conducted by Dr. So was to guide prospective job applicants in developing a strong, customized resume. She highlighted the importance of well-structured and coherent resumes for applying to jobs after PhD or postdoctoral training by giving relevant examples. Dr. So enlightened the audience comprising mainly of PhDs, postdocs, and graduate students on the do’s and don’ts of the application process. She demonstrated how to best articulate skills and experiences and align qualifications with job descriptions in the resume and cover letters to ensure they receive attention by the recruiter. During the workshop, she emphasized the importance of showcasing skills in the right way, so as to “sound like the person the company wants.”  To achieve the same, one should record the right skills and strengths in the resume, especially the ones required by the job description. This can be accomplished by reading the job description carefully to pick keywords that need to be addressed, and prioritize our skills based on the job requirements. Dr. So also advised us to communicate “action-oriented specific descriptive statements” that highlight the listed skills, experiences, awards and achievements, and as far as possible, support stated claims with reference or context.  For example, statements describing skills and achievements should start with action verbs such as “investigated,” “presented,” “collaborated,” “advised,” and “trained.” Also, these changes should not be made in the master document, but the resume should ideally be tailored for the position in question by making a separate resume document for each job application.  

Another important point: never include personal details such as age, marital status, race, religion, ethnicity, or disability in the resume. Moreover, the application email or cover letter should never be addressed to ‘whomsoever it may concern.’ Instead, it should be addressed to specific entities such as the hiring manager, research committee, or human resources. Dr. So also made us aware of ATS—an automated application tracking system that approximately 90% of the companies use as a preliminary screening procedure. She also discussed, an online portal that can help match a resume with the job profile. Within seconds, the algorithms employed by Jobscan can identify the skills and qualifications that are required by the respective job but are missing in the resume. This goes a long way in customizing the resume for the job profile.

Dr. So gave some great and relevant formatting tips while developing a resume. One of the most important tips was on the length of the resume, which should not exceed 1 page. Also, only a standard font size and style (e.g. Times New Roman, 10-12) should be used in the resume. All activities should be listed in reverse chronological order. In the resume, proper attention must be paid to the use of tenses for current and previous job/education. And lastly, most relevant information should be included in the top sections of the resume, with abbreviations and jargon avoided as far as possible.

Dr. So also guided the audience on structuring cover letters, for they are an integral aspect of the application. She made us realize that cover letters play an important role in piquing the employer’s interest in an application. According to Dr. So, “Cover letters are almost like a writing test for the job seeker, as they present an opportunity to convey to the job recruiters things that cannot be covered in the resume.” We should always include in the cover letter the reason we are interested in the company or the institute offering the job.  A mention about what the recruiting institute’s mission is and how it resonates with our life goals goes a long way in convincing the employer about your inspiration and future plans. 

Another important point to include is the motivation to work in that particular area of scientific research. Apart from these,  skills and expertise can also be described in more detail. A note on the putative benefits to the company in recruiting us and how this job can help fulfill one’s future endeavors is also welcome.

All in all, the resume workshop turned out to be a highly engaging, informative, and lively session at the WCUB this year, and it was also my personal favorite! In summary, Dr. Bernadette So helped us to understand the importance of a well-written CV and resume in finding the right job, and in doing so inculcated a greater sense of responsibility for our prospective job applications. Thanks to her, we now know better than to forward the same, generic, shabby resumes to every job opportunity that comes our way. The take-home message from the workshop is summarized above.

Author: Aditi Sahu, Research Scholar, The Milind Rajadhyaksha Lab, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY. Phone # 646-888-6033. Email:,; Facebook:; Twitter:

Editor: Gesa Junge, Tristan Fehr

Keywords: resume workshop, Bernadette So, What Can You Be with a PhD, CV, cover letter